Our group of 10 pilgrims were lucky enough to be a part of the 354,000 young people who journeyed to Lisbon.
As a group of Young Marists, we had been at our own youth gathering the previous week. We got used to being surrounded by about 100 other young and religious people, so walking from our humble accommodation into the avenue for the opening Mass was something else.
Everywhere you looked you saw the pilgrim shirt and backpack, and people squashed in like sardines. We managed to brave our way through the crowds up towards the square to find our section. We had no chance of seeing a screen, but we found a wonderful tree to sit under to really experience the presence of God in the Mass.
While the Mass was in Portuguese, you could still feel the love in the air as Mass was being said. Surprisingly, they managed to bring out communion to everyone in a flash.
Our group had the unique experience of giving representation to the LGBTQIA+ community. Wearing our flag, we journeyed to see Father James Martin, an American priest who identifies with this community. The session was completely booked, three of us didn’t make it in, but he talked about questions of faith that young people often experience and how he perceives the love of God.
Afterwards, we met up with him in a square to ask some more questions and join in conversation, when an American man made it clear he did not like our flag one bit. He stood in front of us in photos with his thumb down, and shouted that we should repent for our sins. It deeply saddens me that people still use their faith as an excuse to spread hate and make others feel inferior, as this man was nothing but angry and hateful, saying awful things to bring our group down. However, everyone around us banded together; we had people from France and the UK defend us, hug us and say we were doing great. That is the love that I have forever associated with my faith community.
Taize and music has been a large part of the way I express my faith since I was a teenager. We found a Taize session a 15 minute walk from our accommodation, with the actual Brothers from Taize running it! After the journey there, we waited in line for about 20 minutes with almost 1000 other people to enter a large, grand church. We were lucky to make it in, as they had to turn some people away. The prayer was so beautiful, although in another language, everyone singing together brought me such joy.
By far my favourite experience was the overnight vigil. We walked for three hours through the heat carrying our packs to the site and found that we would be sharing a space with almost two million people. After finding a spot on the dusty, rocky ground, we were able to take care of our blistered feet and had the perfect view of Pope Francis.
He spoke of making sure there is room for everyone in our Church, something our group felt we needed to hear after our previous encounter. He continued to emphasise the importance of ‘going with haste’ as Mary did, as that was the theme of World Youth Day.
It was amazing to hear him speak. We learnt about stories of people within the Church who had strayed or felt excluded for one reason or another, and how they had found their way back and found love and belonging in their church community. After that, our heartstrings were tugged once again with a video about the climate crisis, and people all over the world who have been affected by it.
I think it was about 1am when the documentary ended but after a full day walking I may have fallen asleep by the end. We were awoken to a beautiful sunrise, and a sight I never thought I’d see – a priest on the DJ decks! With remixes of the Gloria and Alleuia, it was quite a way to wake up. After another wonderful Mass, we journeyed once again with the masses (no pun intended) back to the city.
Overall, World Youth Day was a reflective, busy, exciting, prayerful, community experience. It definitely brought me closer to my faith and gave me a sense of belonging in the Church, which so many young people are searching for.
The final message from Pope Francis really hit home: ‘In the Church, there is room for everyone. Everyone in the Church, no one left out or left over.’ This message should be a lesson in the changing perspectives in the Church, how we need to shift our ideas to make this mindset the forefront of our faith moving forward.
God should be about love, and we need to show that in our views and actions.
Liv Carver was one of five Marist Youth Ministry members from Adelaide who attended WYD in Lisbon.
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